I was browsing on Facebook the other day (as one does), and I ran across a post in my news feed relating to a friend of a friend. She had got malignant melanoma underneath her fingernail from having regular gel manicures over a couple of years. This is not something that I had ever thought too much about, but it makes sense that the UV light that is used to set the gel manicures emits UV rays that could increase risk of skin cancer. True statistics are hard to find, but since there is some possible risk, I figure it could be good to bring it to your attention as something to be aware of. I personally don’t have gel manicures regularly, mostly just before trips away, but it’s enough to make me think twice about it now.
The lamps that are used in nail salons are either called UV lamps, or LED lamps, but both produce UV rays. They produce mostly UVA rays, which have been linked with premature aging and skin cancer. Higher wattage lamps produce higher levels of UVA rays.
The Skin Cancer Foundation’s official position on UV lamps is that they may produce a moderate risk, but still dramatically less than tanning beds. Their recommendation is that everyone who is going to be exposed to these lamps apply broad spectrum sunscreen (covering against UVA and UVB rays), 20 minutes before UV light exposure. They say even better is to avoid the lamps altogether and let nails dry naturally in the air; however, some gel manicures do require the UV lights to set the manicure.
Studies that have been conducted show that numerous exposures are required to increase skin cancer risk – according to one published in JAMA Dermatology, between 8 and 208 visits, with the average being 11 visits before there the increase in risk begins. So the occasional gel manicure may not be the end of the world. But many people I know get gel manicures every other week as part of their beauty regimen – and that might prove to be a risk factor in just a few months.
The simple and sensible solution would be to apply the broad-spectrum sunblock before having a gel manicure. For those with family history of skin cancer, or who don’t want to take any chances at all, avoiding those manicures entirely might be a better choice. People who work in nail salons should be aware that the repeated exposure to UV rays while they are working with clients almost certainly puts them at higher risk.
The person I read about on Facebook ended up losing a part of her finger. She felt that she was quite fortunate overall in that there was no spread of cancer. The fact is that malignant melanoma, left unchecked, can metastasize and cause systemic problems and end up life-threatening.
Everyone gets to make their own decisions about their health and the degree of risk they’re willing to take on to maintain their health. I just thinks it’s good to be aware of the possibilities so we can make informed decisions. To me this falls into the category of avoidable risk, so I will probably choose to forego the gel manicures from now on. For those of you who do get them and do love them, please consider using sunscreen to minimize any risk of problems.